The author and her husband, Duane, own and operate a 550-cow dairy in Cochranville, Pa.If you live on a dairy farm, the odds are high that you live near a small town. There are different definitions of what designates a small town versus a medium town or large town, but most dairy farmers I know find themselves with a “small town” address.
Our dairy sits on the outskirts of Philadelphia and Baltimore, and our growing community is creeping into our farming area. The town is nearly 2 miles from our dairy farm and, in between, several houses are intermingled with our crops.
Our little town has a close knit feel in spite of the encroachment. It reminds me of the theme song for a past television sitcom, “Cheers.” The song talks about “a place where everybody knows your name.”
Not only do the people in our neighborhood know our names, but they know where we live and what we do. We are connected in agriculture and the farming community. The farmers recognize each other’s vehicles and we instinctively wave at every tractor, every farm truck, and every person walking the back roads.
Our community also has a Facebook page that keeps people connected to local issues, history, and friendly chatter. This page includes people who grew up here and moved away for various reasons but still want to be connected to their hometown.
Cochranville is home to many families with a deep history and that have been farming for a long while. We have great neighbors, and I feel fortunate to be surrounded by friends who we align with on many matters.
Rural communities are the best, and I would not want to swap out this lifestyle. Sharing life with neighbors is not always easy, but I value the people who surround our cows.
I am sure they would agree that passing manure trucks, dealing with our fast-paced harvest times, and the occasional “cows are out” moments are not always ideal for them. Yet, many of our neighbors have been here for generations and we have shared many moments together.
When we plant and harvest our crops, we need to spend a good bit of time on the roads going through town, and that is not always an easy task. Our little community comes alive over the weekends as people are driving through town on their way to the beaches on the coast. Maneuvering equipment through the traffic becomes a challenge, and our little roads are bursting at the seams.
We have one stoplight, two local pizza places, a very busy convenience store, a hair salon, a towing business, and a lawn and small tractor supply store. Aside from the convenience store, the businesses are family owned and make the connections between us even better.
A benefit to a small town hair salon is that our son could get his hair cut and ask Gina to charge it to the next parent who came in for a hair cut. The trick worked once.
Recently we added a Dollar Store, much to the dismay of some residents. They felt like that was too much infrastructure hitting the town. Personally, I think the benefit of not having to drive as far for bread and eggs outweighs the fact that we have a new building along the road.
One neighbor works for the police force, and he often likes to stop by our farm with his young grandson and show him the calves. The first time he came by, I drilled him with a ton of questions because I did not know who he was. I soon found out that he knew Duane from attending local township meetings, and Duane had invited him out to the farm.
I will not lie, there are times I am envious when my friends talk about farming miles away from anyone besides cows. I do not know what it is like to drive past acres of farmland without passing someone I know. It is rare that I drive into town without waving to someone that I know, or maybe even someone that I don’t know. I am sure you all have the same feeling, no matter what the size or style of your neighborhood.
As I see other parts of the country, I see a wide variety of “small town” definitions. Some farms are stuck in the middle of a lot of infrastructure, while others are plopped miles away from the nearest post office.
There certainly are pluses and minuses to both, but I prefer being in a rural community where people know us. Conversation is the start of our communication efforts. Social media has a place, but it is not the only way we can talk about our dairy farms. We need to hang onto our small town relationships and make sure that they do not get lost in the fast-paced digital craze.
Our businesses are on display everyday to people in our community. Our connections also need to include hand shakes, smiles, waves, and regular conversations, as even our closest neighbors are disconnected from the food that sits on their tables.
We all have a place we call home, and that place is connected to a town somewhere. Some are close and tightly knit. Some are acres apart from each other. Wherever you milk your cows, make a good connection and make sure you know your neighbor’s name.